Wade on Birmingham

The Future of Birmingham: Familiar

By
smiling bartender

Photo: Chris Happel (CC)

Coming to Birmingham from another part of the country can
induce culture shock, but Southern hospitality and smiles
can ease the transition.

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By Bertha Hidalgo

The future of Birmingham is evolving, and that’s exciting!

The Future of BirminghamI am thrilled to experience its growth, to live in a city changing for the better. I have worked for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, one of the premier medical and public health institutions, since I arrived. UAB attracts top scientists from all over the world. I have been surrounded by other transplants since Day 1 who love our city as much as I do.

But it was rough in the beginning.

I moved from Los Angeles to Birmingham in August 2007. I didn’t know anyone in town, aside from my husband. He had to work the day after we arrived, so I was left to discover the city alone. I recall leaving our apartment complex in Hoover and driving on Alabama 150. After about a mile, I pulled into an Arby’s parking lot and cried for an hour. Few things were familiar to me. My family, favorite stores, comfort food restaurants and weather … they were all missing. Everything was different.

Birmingham has changed, as has my opinion of it. Familiar stores and restaurants from L.A. are sprouting up around the city. Chipotle and Pinkberry were two eateries I missed the most. Not long after my arrival, they arrived as well. Nordstrom Rack also came and made this place feel more like home. The music and food scenes have also evolved significantly since 2007, receiving national recognition.

Some things about Birmingham — and the South — have impressed me significantly. People send handwritten notes and gifts. Strangers smile and say hello. Baggers take groceries out to the car. Life is slower in Birmingham, at least compared to Los Angeles. Time not spent in traffic driving 50 miles to work is extra time I dedicate to my family. The cost of living is incredibly lower in Birmingham than L.A., another major reason we continue to live here. In all, a more personal, higher-quality way of living — I really like that.

I have grown to love a few special things about Birmingham. I like experiencing four seasons, as mild as they may be. I really adore everyone’s passion for football, particularly because it means making and eating party food, or … shopping time. Malls and stores are ghost towns during the games. Score!

I discovered my love for the word “y’all” as well! Best. conjugation. ever.

So here I am, 8 years later, with roots in the ground and no immediate plans to leave. I’ve made great friends, many of whom I consider family. Birmingham is becoming more like the place I left and less like the place I came to in 2007.

I may never truly understand some things about Birmingham and its people. (Let’s just say I don’t get crawfish.) But it is a city that has shown me a lot of love, a place to start a family and ultimately, a place to live my life. Birmingham will forever have a place in my heart and remain a home away from home.

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Bertha HidalgoBertha Hidalgo is an assistant professor in the epidemiology department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, an associate scientist at the UAB Nutrition and Obesity Research Center, faculty scholar at the Center for the Study of Community Health, chair of the Minority Affairs Committee for the American College of Epidemiology and blogger at Chic in Academia.

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The Future of BirminghamThe full version of this essay and many more are available in the free ebook, “The Future of Birmingham.”

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Read more essays in our special 10th anniversary series, The Future of Birmingham.

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